Srinagar, though only a 90-minute flight from sweltering Delhi, was a place apart. Surrounded by tall mountains and dominated by a beautiful lake, it was forty degrees cooler. We sat by a warm fire in our host’s home the evening I arrived. It seemed more like New England than India!
Srinagar has seen far more violence than Delhi due to ongoing tensions with its neighbor, Pakistan. Unlike Delhi, its population is almost entirely Muslim; there was great sympathy for Boston and the ordeal it suffered as a result of the Marathon bombings. Our host family knew well the effect of such things on a community.
Checkpoints were everywhere for visitors like me, but a more vivid image was the sight of soldiers standing guard at bus stops and along the shopping streets. Given the discussions that took place after the tragedy at Newtown, I wondered if I was observing a vision of America in the future as seen by some in our country.
Kashmir is a place of craftsmanship and pride in the traditions of masonry and wood carving. I saw plenty of this, even in my short time there. But it seemed odd to my eye that the wood, however beautifully carved, would rarely be finished in oils or lacquers. Likewise, all the elaborately detailed masonry buildings, regardless of condition, whether awaiting renovation or occupied, almost always had corrugated metal roofing. Perhaps this is a regional solution to their winter snows, reminiscent of rural Vermont?
To my eye Srinagar was a visual jumble of things that ought not be so close, like a small boy in the middle of all the traffic or loud retail signs next to the carefully built townhouse or clothes drying placed squarely in front of the window on the balcony.
Yet there I found in Srinagar a kind of beautiful energy and free acceptance of such things which are unfamiliar. It taught me to take care in judging things, like design decisions, when reckoning what to recommend to sophisticated clients whose frame of reference is informed far more in these few transitory images than in all my professional training.